FRISCO, Texas – Another week, another division rival.
This is the third time in the last five years the Cowboys open their season with back-to-back division games, as I guess the league wants to see what they’re made of. As a matter of fact, the Cowboys opened with this exact same slate – home against New York and at Washington – back in 2016.
Dallas won the opener, which is an improvement from 2016. Hopefully they can stack another win at FedEx Field this weekend after losing their last year for the first time since 2012.
Anyway, here’s a look at what Washington is bringing to the matchup – two familiar faces and a new name to know.
Weapon: RB Chris Thompson
I don’t think Chris Thompson gets the credit he deserves because the Redskins have Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice as their primary backs. Thompson is a scary player for defensive coordinators to prepare for due to his versatility.
If the box is stacked they can throw him the ball in space on the edge and he’s up the field in a flash. He shows hands as if he’s a receiver. He can cripple a defense catching the ball, especially on the screen. Jay Gruden sets up plays where he has Thompson act as if he’s staying in to block, then will leak him out of the backfield with blockers out in front. As much success as the Giants had throwing screen passes, I guarantee we will see Gruden with a couple in his game plan.
Where Thompson can also cause issues is running the ball against a light box. Gruden will spread his personnel out wide, creating situations where there are only six in the box and pop a run with Thompson. Gruden is banking that he’s going to get a hat on a hat with his blockers and Thompson’s quickness is going to get through the hole before the defenders have an opportunity to get off their blocks and react.
Kris Richard’s linebackers are athletic enough to match up with Thompson, so that’s in his favor and that will likely be the course of action in how he deals with him.
Nemesis: CB Josh Norman
Washington defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will have to make a decision on how he wants to handle these Cowboys receivers. In the past, he hasn’t been one to travel his corners in “star” coverage. Generally, when you face a squad that only has one receiver, travelling with that player is not a bad option -- but it means you’re willing to take a chance that the other cornerbacks will hold up.
Josh Norman might not be what he was five years ago, but he’s still highly competitive and skillful in the way he plays. There was a time in his career where he only played on one side of the field, but that has since changed. In the game last week against the Eagles, he even took some snaps in the slot -- which is something we haven’t seen from him before.
I don’t think Manusky can afford to travel Norman, because as much as he wants to believe in Quinton Dunbar and rookie Jimmy Moreland, he has to be concerned about those guys matching up with Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb. It might be best for Manusky to move Norman around the field, but don’t let Kellen Moore get a read on where he’s going to line up down after down.
If I am Manusky, I am turning this into a guessing game with Norman. I am sure there will be plenty of snaps where Dak Prescott is going to look into that Redskins secondary and realize that his best plan of attack would be to throw away from Josh Norman.
Under the Radar: LB Cole Holcomb
It appears that the Redskins hit on this Cole Holcomb out of North Carolina. Holcomb was selected in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Judging by the way he played against the Eagles, he should have gone higher.
In college, he played square along the line and rarely got turned. That has carried over to his game in the NFL. He has quick reactions and can really flow to the ball. There were several snaps where he was beating the Eagles’ offensive linemen to the point of attack, which is difficult to do being that those guys tend to play well on the second level.
I was impressed with the range he has to chase plays. He can really run and when I checked his timed speed, I understood why – he posted a 4.51 40-yard dash. I didn’t remember him having that type of timed speed, but he plays that fast.
He tackles well, especially when he’s on the move. He can bring his man down when he gets in position. He’s quick to read, react and then make the tackle. I love how he's around the ball – he’s just super active in the way he goes about his job.
If he had an issue in college, it was that he got too aggressive and needed to play under better control -- but off the jump he’s holding up well. He will need to be accounted for in the running game. He has some Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch in him, just in the way he sees gaps and hits them.
Holcomb will make his share of plays just running through the line. The Cowboys need to make sure a hat gets on him or he could be disruptive.